See the TravelAdvisor map of where I've been (not just by motorcycle). Note that the green markers are where I want to go but haven't been yet.
personal Twitter account
Professional Twitter account
International trips by motorcycle
Trips riding my own motorcycle
| After two years riding a 1982 Honda
NightHawk 650, I switched to a 2008 KLR 650 (Kawasaki), a dual
sport motorcycle, in November 2011, and have been riding the KLR
I loved loved loved the smooth ride of the Honda Nighthawk (four cylinders is so awesome), but I want do more adventure motorcycle riding - that means riding off-road sometimes, some times all day, to get to my destination. I'm not looking to ever be a true off-road motorcyclist, ripping up steep inclines and skidding around on dirt and gravel - I just want to be able to take not-too-crazy forest road to some really remote camping or some gorgeous sight.
Here's the challenge: I'm 5' 4" (162.56 cm), and dual sport motorcycles are NOT made for short people.
A BMW GS 650 would have been a great choice - but I couldn't afford such. A Yamaha XT660R (2007) was looking good for about 15 minutes - until I realized it wasn't sold in the USA.
While waiting on Bainbridge Island for the ferry to Seattle, we met two guys on KLRs. One of them let me sit on his bike. And I was on tip toe, but I was touching the ground! He said he had lowered it an inch and a half. Some online research showed that there were lowering kits that would bring the bike even further - and seats that would bring it down even further. Since the Kawasaki is a very common bike in the USA, and would therefore be easy to outfit and find parts for, we decided to look for a KLR.
But I was super scared. Dual sports have a much higher center of gravity than a roadster or cruiser. They are also, usually, single cylinders, and that makes them "thumpers" - the ride isn't silky at all, like a roadster or cruiser. What if I hated it?
Choosing the KLR 650
We found an unbelievably good deal on a 2008 KLR in Vancouver with just 3700 miles - right after I had re-registered my Honda Nighthawk, and bought and installed a new back tire and new chain set (argh) - and decided to jump on it.
Adapting & Outfitting the KLR 650
To make the bike lower, we went with a 1.5 inch lowering kit (we found 2" to be WAY too low - not enough clearance!) and a very expensive lowered seat. That required lowering the front of the bike (by sliding the forks up) exactly as much as the rest of the bike had been lowered. We also got the side stand cut by a local welder. Altogether, this lowered the bike enough for me to be able to stand on the balls of my feet on either side. All of this work, and adding front and back crash bars / pannier racks and a center stand, was done by my husband (thanks, Schatz).
FYI, top case and side panniers are available for sale from my husband (see ad at right).
What if you don't have a husband who can do all this for you? Your nearest motorcycle dealership for the kind of bike you have will probably do it for you. The nearest motorcycle shop that isn't an official dealership may not. You may have better luck just posting to ADVRider and asking if there is anyone in your area that would do it for you for a reasonable price.
Riding the KLR 650
I'm on the balls of my feet when sitting on the bike without
luggage, and don't feel overwhelmed by the bikes weight - which
I most certainly would on a heavier bike. To get on the bike, I
stand up on the left-side foot peg with my left foot, swing my
leg over, and then put both feet on the ground - yes, kind of
like getting on a horse. I had a lot to get used to as far as
breaking and switching gears, and the noise and vibration the
bike makes when I ride. But the dashboard is now in my field of
vision while riding (it wasn't on the Honda Nighthawk - I had to
bow my head down to see my gauges). And the bike is much more
zippy, much more nimble - it feels quicker and lighter and more
responsive than the Nighthawk.
I carry a lot more luggage on the KLR than I ever did on the
Nighthawk, in terms of weight. I highly recommend practicing
riding around with that weight a day or two before a big trip -
even the day of a trip now, I ride around the neighborhood for
five minutes, stopping and slow turning around corners, to
remind myself that I'm carrying a LOT of weight.
Getting used to the bike
Once I got the motorcycle at the height I needed, I worked to
get in as much riding time as possible that winter of 2011-12,
so that I was ready for practice on gravel as soon as it was dry
enough, and then for a long weekend trip in the Spring. My
ultimate goal was to be ready for a big trip in September
2012. I road at least an hour every week, whenever
the weather might allow, so that the bike would quickly lose
that "foreign" feeling.
My husband designs and sells aluminum top boxes and side panniers. They are tough, light-weight, and affordable. They are German-designed and made in the USA!
This small version of the top box is 20 liter (5.3 gallon)
400 x 250 x 200 mm
1.6 mm (1⁄16") thick aluminum
My goals for the first six months, to reach by the end of April 2012:
I met all of those goals by the end of July, taking lots of day trips in Oregon & Washington state, a long weekend camping trip in Eastern Oregon in May 2012, and taking a weekend camping trip (322 miles) in July in Gifford Pinchot National Forest / Southern Washington State. We even managed to attend the Sound RIDER! Rally in The Gorge in August and road a few hundred miles in conjunction with that. And in all of that, I road gravel on every outing, even if it was just a mile.
Our big trip of 2446 miles / 3914 km miles was in Northern
California, Nevada, Southwestern Oregon, in the first two
weeks of September. And, indeed, it included gravel and dirt, including
the dirt road to this lovely cow pasture camping and the Highland
House Off-Road Adventure™.
What I was never able to do in 2012, despite many efforts to do so, was to get some one-on-one training from an expert for riding off-road. I asked at dirt bike stores and I asked on various online discussion groups, but despite my willingness to pay, no one was interested in teaching a middle-aged woman with no dirt bike experience whatsoever, who started riding a motorcycle only in 2009 (doesn't that sound like fun?!).
Our Motorcycle Travel & Rally Plans for 2013
My first two years of owning and riding my own motorcycle (a 1982 Honda Nighthawk), in photos.
My switch to a KLR 650, in photos.
Tips for Women: Getting Started as a Motorcycle Rider (just to ride, not necessarily to travel as well)
Suggested short motorcycle routes in Oregon and Washington state (from an hour to all-day; many can be linked together to create longer trips).
transire benefaciendo: "to travel along while doing good." Advice for those wanting to make their travel more than sight-seeing and shopping, whether in your own country or abroad.
General information and advice for women travelers to help get novice women travelers from the USA, with or without motorcycle, planning ASAP, with advice on how to choose where to go, your options regarding group travel or DIY, and your options regarding transportation and accommodations.
Broad Abroad home page | Jayne in Germany | Jayne in Afghanistan | contact me
The personal opinions expressed on this page are solely those of Ms. Cravens, unless otherwise noted.